Two little birds had suddenly appeared on the most exposed part of the ship – the Breda gun platform. Don Viney C.P.T.I is on one gun and he was very perturbed about them for they appeared exhausted and thirsty. One bird hopped towards a pool of liquid. “Don’t drink that you silly little B___” said Don. “Its salt water and oil. Don’t you know any better than that”. But the bird just gave a cheep and he was thirsty. He very soon found out his mistake and Don regarded him triumphantly. “There now I suppose you’ve given yourself a belly ache. Serve you right for not taking notice.” Then placing a cup of water on the crane he tried to persuade it to drink – crumbling small pieces of bread for it. All this time 15 inch shells were dropping around us – the funnels belching plumes of smoke as we tore through the sea at 33 ½ knots – racing for our existence. Don and his little feathered friends were quite unconscious of the terror about us.
After about two hours of racing – an hour of which had us under fire – we finally got clear away and after gasping for breath for a few minutes looked round for the Battle Fleet. We eventually picked them up about 1400 and very glad to see them we were and to creep in under the umbrella of poppa and his big boys. The Skipper came down and had a little informal chat with the lads telling us how badly we had needed our speed and smoke. The C in C made us to VAIF that we had made a perfect cruisers manoeuvre – that’s something anyhow – we can’t do much better than perfection. We had plenty of air raid “Reds” during the afternoon but no attacks – our Fulmars chased them away.
C in C ordered a large sized load of manure for the dagoes to be delivered at dusk and shortly before sundown as we idled along serenely as though it was just a routine sweep and there wasn’t such a thing as a hostile fleet within a few miles of us – the sunset painting the usual riot of colours, silhouetted against the glowing depths of it could be discerned nine specks in the sky making their way north towards a low misty smudge on the far horizon which was the enemy making their way home. Not long afterwards when the afterglow had just died a new glow spread to the northward where a gigantic firework display commenced. The sky was filled with bursting shells and tracer shells from their Bredas and pom poms.
That lasted for an hour and, when one comes to realise what a job those Swordfish pilots had, one has to take off one’s hat to them. In the words of our Skipper – “I think it is the bravest thing a man can do – to carry out a torpedo attack on a battleship. They have to fly low and direct at their target, a perfect sitting shot, and press home their attack in the face of a terrific barrage of A.A fire. It takes iron nerves and determination to do this and they deserve any luck that comes their way.”
They certainly came to our rescue in the morning when they successfully turned the enemy battle fleet from its attentions to us. This night attack was all the more difficult because of the fact that after their attack on the enemy they had to then fly in the direction of Crete and land on strange unlighted and difficult to find aerodromes. This operation was carried out with all success – the Squadron Leader making the cryptic report to C in C – “Have direct hit or sunk a battleship”. After this pyrotechnic display we – the 7th Cruiser Squadron – were sent ahead to make contact with the enemy. The 2nd and 7th destroyer flotilla was also dispatched to attack with torpedos. The night was dark with a brilliant display of stars which to our eyes seemed as bright as searchlights as we crept forward to within 5 miles of the enemy fleet. The sea was like glass and as we were about to spread out in a seventeen mile sweep we made contact and closed in again as we shadowed them silently.